One of the great meetings of journalistic minds took place last week, when left-wing journalist Glenn Greenwald appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson. The segment was devoted to their purportedly strange agreement over the Russian hacking story (which is not actually strange at all, given their mutual antipathy for the center-left). Greenwald has long dismissed the charge that Russia manipulated WikiLeaks’ publication of Democratic party emails as a “smear,” mocking suspicions of misbehavior by what he referred to in sarcastic capitalized words as “The Russians”; he called it typical of the Democrats’ alleged tendency to use false attacks against Russia to discredit its adversaries (“So WikiLeaks has become an enemy of the Democratic Party, and they seem to have one tactic with their adversaries and enemies, which is to accuse them of being Russian agents”). On Carlson’s program, Greenwald attacked the Washington Post for reporting that the CIA and the FBI believed Russia’s hacking was intended to help Trump win. It is a remarkable segment that merits close reading.
“Should we believe that assessment?” asked Carlson. “We should be extremely skeptical of it for multiple reasons,” replied Greenwald. “These are assertions that are being made unaccompanied by any evidence whatsoever.”
An enormous amount of public evidence supports the conclusion that Russia conducted the email hacks. Experts from 19 intelligence agencies, as well as those from the private sector, have endorsed this finding, and evidence of Russian involvement has been laid out publicly in excruciating detail, both by the government and the news media. It’s true that intelligence agencies have not published evidence for their findings that Russia conducted the hack in order to elect Trump, for fear of exposing their sources and methods. But Russia’s motive is the least mysterious aspect of the entire episode. The Kremlin has literally spent months broadcasting its preference for Trump, both on its outward-facing and inward-facing propaganda outlets. Given Putin’s well-documented habit of intervening in foreign elections to benefit nationalistic parties and to harm parties favoring hawkish policies against Russia, it would be extremely strange if his interference in the election were not intended to help Trump.
Yet, Greenwald and Carlson, having established to their mutual satisfaction that reports of Russian interference in the election should be viewed with extreme suspicion, moved on to the question of just why it was that the Post would publish such a scurrilous report. “It is so weird that Russia is the focus … ” mused Carlson, “and yet, all of a sudden, Russia seems to be villain number one. Why is that? It seems strange.” The obvious response — Russia is the focus because it interfered with an American presidential election — had already been dismissed, so Greenwald supplied a different explanation for why Russia was suddenly the object of tough coverage in the media. Greenwald explained that Democrats ginned up hostility to Russia entirely for political reasons:
“One of the really interesting things is, in 2012, when Mitt Romney ran against Barack Obama, the Democrats mocked Romney mercilessly for depicting Russia as the number one geopolitical threat […] And throughout the Obama presidency, he tried accommodating Putin, he didn’t arm anti-Russian factions in Ukraine, he tried cooperating with him in Syria, it was really an election-year political theme that the Democrats manufactured out of whole cloth, that the Russian, that Putin posed some existential threat to the United States, that they’re our enemy […]”
It is true that, in 2012, the Republican Party had staked out a more hawkish stance on Russia than the Democrats. But the Democrats were hardly praising Putin’s regime. The dispute between Obama and Romney was a relatively narrow one centering on whether Russia was literally America’s number-one enemy, or whether that distinction belonged to Al Qaeda. In his 2012 convention speech, Obama said, “You don’t call Russia our number-one enemy — not Al Qaeda, Russia [Laughter.] — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”
Greenwald presents Obama’s chilly relationship with Russia as nothing but an election-year ploy. He omits any mention of the event that changed the tenor of U.S.-Russia relations: the Russian attack on Ukraine. Obama responded to the invasion by imposing sanctions on Russia in 2014. That event, not some election-year need to gin up a foreign bogeyman, is what generated tension between Obama and Putin. For Greenwald to depict the administration’s chilly stance toward Russia as “an election-year political theme that the Democrats manufactured out of whole cloth” is a complete fantasy.
Carlson agreed that there was “only a political motivation” to explain Obama’s criticisms of Russia.
After this point was agreed upon, Greenwald went beyond merely questioning the certainty of the Post’s reporting and denounced “wild, elaborate conspiracy theories.” “To sit here and sort of suggest that Vladimir Putin lurks behind every American problem, to concoct these wild, elaborate conspiracy theories, to try and convince Americans that Russia is this grave threat to the United States … ” he explained, “I think it’s incredibly dangerous.”
Note that, at the beginning of the segment, Greenwald was just asking questions about how solid this reporting really was, and by the end of it, had described the Post’s reporting of a finding shared by the CIA and FBI as “conspiracy theories.”
“That’s the way it seems to me!” agreed Carlson. “So, it’s great to hear you say that, it makes me feel less crazy.” And the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already, it was impossible to say which was which.